Top 10 coronavirus fake news items

By Damien Glez
Posted on Tuesday, 17 March 2020 15:43

A mask is seen on an animal head on the wall at A Pizza Mart amid the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle
A mask is seen on an animal head on the wall at A Pizza Mart amid the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

As the coronavirus epidemic reaches the African continent, false information is spreading faster than the virus itself. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the consequences of a pernicious “infodemic.”

Despite Donald Trump’s conviction that the coronavirus wouldn’t be able to survive warmer springtime temperatures, the illness has made it to Africa, with countries like Senegal, Algeria, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria affected.

With even the president of the United States ruffling the feathers of scientists, regular citizens in panic mode are hardly reassuring to the medical community.

Internet users are at once targeted by and purveyors of false information. The WHO asserts that rumours contribute to triggering unnecessary panic. Fighting an epidemic also involves tackling an infodemic.

We’ve debunked the top 10 fake news stories

Social media sites shoulder the huge responsibility of stemming the spread of counterproductive rumours. Facing pressure from the WHO, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube confirmed that they have taken measures to counter disinformation about the coronavirus.

“Going viral” has never been so aptly named….

• Transmission via mosquito bites

Although it’s always appropriate to keep a safe distance from the insect that spreads paludism and dengue fever, respiratory viruses don’t seem, at this stage, to be transmitted by mosquito bites, but by droplets of saliva or nasal secretions expelled by an infected person when coughing or sneezing. Speaking of animals, no house pets seem to have been infected by the new coronavirus.

• Some plausible, but useless, remedies

Antibiotics work against bacteria, not viruses. Taking antibiotics to treat or prevent coronavirus could prove harmful by reducing a person’s vigilance. Vaccines against pneumonia don’t provide protection against COVID-19 either. The potential efficacy of chloroquine is currently being studied but doesn’t look particularly promising.

Members of the South Korean army disinfect the streets of Seoul, March 4, 2020. © Ahn Young-joon/AP/SIPA

• Temperature as a cure

Just as the scientific community didn’t give Trump’s theories on COVID-19’s survival in high temperatures a seal of approval – hand dryers and UV lamps don’t effectively guard against the virus – the WHO has also discredited the idea that cold weather and snow can kill the new virus. So don’t bother going on an ice cream binge.

• Far-fetched remedies

Some wrongly maintain that people can protect themselves against COVID-19 by washing their hands with children’s urine, applying sesame oil all over their body or consuming cannabis. These are simply examples of false advertising and/or click bait. Although people joke that consuming too much garlic will keep away potentially infected individuals due to extremely bad breath, this edible plant doesn’t boost the body’s immune system.

• Transmission via parcels from China

Although their lifespan varies depending on the environment and temperature, pathogenic germs can only survive on objects such as parcels, coins and credit cards for a few hours. Products imported from China to Africa have been travelling for too long to transmit the virus.

• Youthful immunity

The virus doesn’t just impact the elderly, although being in a fragile state influences the body’s ability to fight infection.

• A conspiracy brought to you by big pharma

According to this theory, pharmaceutical giants that have made a fortune off of drugs are hiding simple, effective coronavirus treatments so that they can profit from the sale of a future vaccine. The anti-vaccine movement piggybacks on the delayed treatment conspiracy.

The liner Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Japan
The liner Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Japan. © Kentaro Aoyama/AP/SIPA

• Bioweapon rumours

Just as conspiracy theories proliferated about HIV, theories surrounding the coronavirus posit that the disease is a bioweapon engineered by the Chinese government, the US government or Bill Gates’s foundation and that it was either deliberately or accidentally released. These rumours overlap with tall tales of former Soviet bloc countries supposedly carrying out secret geopolitical operations to weaken democracies via massive viral propaganda campaigns.

• Digital contagion

Based mainly on the fact that the 5G network was rolled out in the Chinese city of Wuhan just a few weeks before the coronavirus came on the scene, and that infected passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship had been using the technology, chat groups have been fuelling suspicion towards the electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by wireless communications networks.

For some, 5G is the source of the virus while, for others, COVID-19 is actually as harmless as the common cold but is being used to cover up the outbreak of other diseases. . .

• Choose your own conspiracy

The hardest conspiracy theories to disprove by fact checking are ones that are merely implied. Disappointed by the cancellation of one of his concerts set to attract more than 5,000 people after France imposed a temporary measure prohibiting large gatherings, French singer Matt Pokora reacted with an insidious “Are they hiding something from us or what?” What was he referring to exactly, an anti-R&B conspiracy? Although internet users and editorialists made fun of the artist’s reaction, it’s difficult to assess the impact such comments have on a fan club.

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